Lamide Cole, our native stranger continues his expatriation story with rugged candour as he glides and negotiates through the ebb and flow of life in the western Diaspora. Lammy may be as slippery as a bar of soap, there is nevertheless a crushing relevance and truth in his epic yarn of setback and courage.
With racism, I think I have some experiences to share. In 1989, there was an initial rumour but which turned out to be true that a white police woman was raped in Brixton. I have never seen such pandemonium in my life. In fact the whole thing was overplayed and overhyped you would think it was the Queen of UK that was raped. Please, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that raping innocent women is good, what I am saying is that Police were too frenetic and angry because it was one from their rank. Would they be so over efficient and over zealous if the victim had been an innocent black woman?
Brixton that night was turned into hunting zone. Every moving black man was a suspect. Black men were being hunted down like animals. I would soon fall into the hand of my oppressors. I had left home to buy my cooking stuff unaware that such an incident had happened along Atlantic Road. The moment I set my foot on Atlantic Road, a policeman picked me up instantly and added me to other statistics already taken to the station. I protested my innocence. I raved and ranted but the police man would have none of it. I was slammed into the back of their van and driven to the Police Station. I was locked up for 4 harrowing hours bitterly hating the police for being heavy-handed and lawless.
Thankfully, the Police were not forgiven for their racist and knee jack reaction. Four days later, Brixton was turned into a war zone. I saw so many angry black people fighting a real pitch battle with the Police. The rioting was so massive and there was so many injuries and burnt cars. Seriously, for me it was a bad day. I must let you know that I was happy to see black people defending their dignity and fighting to regain their tarnished respect from the Police. It was racism; do you understand what I am saying?
Another time that I was so much demoralised by this country’s racism was when I lived in Greenwich around 1991-92. Racist behaviour towards me was blatant and threatening. It destroyed my confidence in the yobbish youth of this country. Each night, I could not sleep properly because of marauding party of white youth looking for blacks to beat up. There was a time I approached the Police to report an incident of harassment from white youths, the police man I met asked if I knew my tormentors. He was so cheeky and was looking at me as if I was a criminal.
If I remembered well, I think I was told to go back to Nigeria in 1998 even though I had been married to a British passport holder in the person of my wife since 1996. This time, I used to go to a school in Tottenham called Moscow School. In 1998, the school was raided by immigration and police officials who reckoned that the school was a front for illegal immigrants who wanted to regularise their papers. In the melee, my passport was seized.
Sometime after the raid when I made enquiry regarding my seized passport, the immigration department denied having my passport in their possession. I was taken to court and there and then I declared that I was working with a fabricated National Insurance number.
I don’t want to speak for other Africans in the Diaspora, but definitely the two cultures are different. I had the first culture shock in 1988 at a kind of Gay and Lesbian rally in London. I was shocked, nauseated and speechless to see gay men kissing one another. I also saw women lesbian carousing and caressing themselves in the full view of the public. This experience affected me socially and psychologically. Sorry, I am a Christian and I am very conservative in things like this. I think it is sinful and immoral for these people to be taking liberty to a ridiculous level. I am completely opposed to the way their kids are raised up. I also realised that the foundation of their marriage was shaky as spouse could be independent and do what he or she likes with his or body. I think there is too much worship of the flesh in the Western world. They are into pornography which I never knew existed before I came here.
In terms of marriage, they have Western culture and we have African culture. In Black Africa this is more of a commitment rather than convenience which is the shameful fad in United Kingdom. For example, when I first came here I dated white girls but I quickly find out that there was no way I could hitch up with them or enter into a marital relationship with them. I realised that socially, mentally and spiritually I am different from the white girls I dated. Although, this point might sound silly, do you know that we have different sense of humour? With the white girl dated, night time was a proper nightmare. We share little or nothing in common to joke and have a laugh about. All we did was get boozed up and crawl into bed for massive shagging. Is that life? There was no way I could cope with being empty and bereft of ideas every night and not knowing what to discuss with my white sweetheart. It was more than a torment for me. But the moment I got married to my own type, I mean a proper black woman we shared a lot of jokes and even spoke in ‘broken English’ sometimes.
Also, I have to mention that as a father I have to protect my son from the corroding effect of crumbling social edifice of British society. Look at all the Boroughs we have many youth suffering seriously from anti-social behaviour. The youth have turned to yobs and have no respect for elders. Unlike my culture, we tend to respect our older citizens and protect them. So, in order to protect my son from Western cultural nihilism, I had to take matter into my own hands. I ‘deported’ him (Laughs) to Nigeria to learn about my culture for some years before ‘deporting’ him back to the UK.
This paid off tremendously because there was a positive change in his manners, attitude and values. You know what; a teacher even noticed the change in him! A white teacher commented that he was properly brought up because she could see the difference in him. I teased out the white teacher to explain what she meant. You know this people, I mean white teachers, they could be very sarcastic and meant something else. (Laughs). So, she said that children here are uncontrollable, rude and lost. I then told the lady that I lost my business in Nigeria and had to return to the UK with my son.
In fact, when my son was attending Lifefort in Nigeria, he did excellently well and I was very proud of his achievement there. That goes to show that Nigeria educational system is still good but believe me most parents in the Diaspora don’t believe this. They harbour a kind of colonial mentality and prefer all things European or American. I think it is sad.
Any support from your people in the Diaspora?
As a matter of fact, I don’t belong to such groups. I remember that my wife encouraged me to join one of such groups but I refused saying that it would not be of much benefit to me. Really, I don’t think they could be of any help other than squeeze money out of me which I was not prepared to give. I think it is all about materialism and all that kind of stuff! I mean just to go there and show off your new shoes, cars or attire. People do know that we Nigerians are very materialistic minded people and I was not keen on that.
Is there any experience or experiences that have affected you mentally and psychologically?
Oh yes, oh yes!! I remember when I was looking for a
job to return to IT, I actually got an interview but to the shock of my life, the interviewer was too frank for my comfort. This company sells IT products on behalf of British Telecommunication. He realised that I had the technical knowledge but, wait for it, he was afraid my accent will drive away his customers. (Laughs). Well, we could laugh at that now but when he said it, that statement affected me mentally and psychologically. Here I am someone who had been living in the UK for years and speaks English fluently but now to be denied a job opportunity because of my ‘irritating’ and thick African accent! So sad, init? The man emphasised that I did not speak like a born and bred black Brit. What I am saying is that in this society, employers could still discriminate against you because of your accent if it does not sound kosher.
Do you harbour a sense of self-rejection being a minority and black?
No….not quite. I still have confidence in myself even though the group I belong to are under threat and are classed as insignificant minority. Honestly nothing could weigh me down because as a person, I look at the bright side of life regardless of whether I am a minority and black.
Do you think African culture should be taught to our kids?
Well, to answer that question for myself, I don’t compromise on that. Back home we have to prostrate on the ground as a mark of respect for our elders and I think it was kind of good that elders are not treated like shit. Though, there are constrains in going all the way to practice my culture in the UK, all the same I still taught my son to bow gently when he is greeting elders and that has stuck ever since. I think it would be ridiculous of him to start prostrating all over the place. You know what; they might think that he is mad! It is easy for them to say that black people suffer from mental problem in this little island of beer and rugby (Laughs).
My son also knows that he has a lot of uncles and aunties and as such he could not call them names. As a matter of fact, he calls some of my uncles and aunties who are older then me, daddy or mummy. This is the enervating part of our culture because we believe that older adults should not be called by names by younger adults. In the West, it is different. Here first names terms are quite common among families. I have seen a son called his dad by his first name. I just could not understand why my kid will call me names. Is it not crazy? Anyway, that’s them…
Do you still love Africa?
Yes, I still do and very much so! As a matter of fact the reason I first came abroad was to study and return home after my studies. But when Nigeria was torn upside down by coups and counter coups, I decided to stay on in the UK. My prayer then for Nigeria was to be stable through democracy so that I could return. I think that prayer has been heard now and thankfully Nigeria is a democracy regardless of her democratic imperfections. My first visit back to Nigeria was in 1999 after I left her in 1989. I could see that my love for the country was still solid and genuine. I could see lots of opportunities all around me. I was again in the country in 2001 and in that year I lost so much money. What really underpinned my loss of fortune in that business was mainly due to Nigeria’s poor infrastructural base. I had gone to Nigeria to conduct business with the mentality of Westerner where everything works and forgetting that Nigeria is a developing nation where many things are not working.
However, I am not discouraged in anyway because I still love my country and the people. Though I am here now, it is temporary. I can see many opportunities in Nigeria. All I do here is work to pay the bills and eat. That is all. That is not good for me because I have energy and I am business minded. I have a charitable and active mind that could not be trapped forever in the UK. I can tell you that the destiny of a lot of Diaspora Nigerians is in Nigeria but many are becoming creature comfort because of the ease of life they enjoy abroad. Personally, I would not stay forever here because of stable electricity, good and motorable roads, efficient police, reliable security and forget my fatherland. Please tell me, how would Nigeria develop when we are all refusing to go back with all our Diaspora experiences?
Not only that, I believe that back home I will have more to offer than here. You see, I am a charitable person and going into charity is my life purpose which I hope to fulfil someday. I might not be able to do that in this country so I figure that Nigeria is the place where I hope to birth my charity dream.
What is your philosophy of life?
I will say that I am a Christian and I totally agree with everything written in the Bible. I want to work with God and there is no way I could do this without integrity. So I cherish personal integrity in all my undertakings.’’
When Lammy finished, the central hive of his tapestry of existential pain sunk home. He did not build delusion on top of any fantasy. In spite of the desperate years abroad, he looked stylish in his pink-stripped, cuff-linked shirt. Minutes later, his reflective lassitude crumbled. Gentle tears strolled down his wiry, grey beard.